Supreme Court rules against TMR victim’s family: Surprisingly broad interpretation of Quebec's Auto Insurance Act revives calls for "no-fault" refor

By P.A. Sévigny on July 18, 2012

Six years after Gabriel Rossy was killed after a rotten tree fell on his car while he was driving through Westmount during a freak summer storm, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled against his family after it sued the city for failing to properly maintain the tree that killed their son. Following last week’s unanimous decision, the court decided that under the regulations of Québec’s Automobile insurance Act, Rossy’s family must turn to the province’s automobile insurance board for compensation because he was driving a car at the time of his death.

            “I don’t agree with their decision,” said Montreal lawyer Julius Grey. Grey said that he was disappointed with the court’s unanimous decision after which he said there should be a serious debate on the subject. “People can no longer look to the courts for any kind of decision about compensation following a car accident in Québec because from now on, Québec’s S.A.A.Q. (Société de l’Assurance Automobile du Québec) will be the ones who decide on who gets what (…and how much) after someone gets hurt or killed in an accident.”

            Apart from their lawyer’s disappointment, last Friday’s decision also put an end to an epic legal battle in which Rossy’s immediate family did their best to convince the courts that the City of Westmount should bear some kind of responsibility for their son’s death after a coroner’s inquest discovered the city failed to properly maintain the tree that killed their son.

            “This was always about justice, responsibility and being accountable for your actions,” said Sharon Rossy. During a weekend telephone interview, Rossy said that “…no one [including the government] should be allowed to hide behind the law in order to avoid their own responsibilities to do their job.” 

            Six years ago, Rossy’s son Gabriel was killed after a 100 year-old poplar tree fell on his car as he was driving down Westmount’s section of the city’s Côte Des Neiges Road during a freak summer storm. Following a coroner’s inquest in which the tree was determined to be old, decrepit and almost completely (90%) rotten, coroner Paul Dionne ruled that Rossy’s death could have been prevented if the City of Westmount had bothered to properly maintain its trees. Following the family’s initial effort to sue the city for $1.3 Million in compensation for their son’s death, a Superior Court judge ruled that the family should turn to Québec’s S.A.A.Q. for a decision because their son was driving a car at the time of his death. Four years later, following the family’s decision to take the initial decision to a higher court, the Québec Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s decision after they accepted Maître Grey’s argument that being in the car had little to do with the cause of Rossy’s death. As of last Friday’s decision, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that the Appeals Court “…erred in interpreting the [Automobile Insurance] act too narrowly,” as under the present law, any accident arising from the use of a vehicle as a means of transportation falls within the legal definition of an ‘accident’ even if the vehicle’s role happens to be relatively minor if not entirely incidental.

            “It’s sad,” said Rossy’s mother,”…but the court seems to have accepted nothing more than the status quo instead of debating the real issues of civic responsibility.”

            When asked for his comments about the court’s decision, Mayor Peter Trent made a point of saying that he had a lot of feelings for what happened to the Rossy family and that there was no reason to celebrate the court’s decision. While he made a point that it was the city’s insurance company (Lloyd’s of London) that fought the Rossy family’s claim all the way up to the nation’s Supreme Court, he also believes the young man’s death could be a good opportunity to begin a serious debate about how the government could, and should, improve Québec’s controversial no-fault insurance laws.



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